Summary: A Good Friday sermon as part of the lenten series Words of Lent. (This sermon quotes several historical perspectives and descriptions of crucifixion)
Four simple words are found in this text: “And they crucified him”. -- "And they crucified him!" Not very descriptive really, considering the severity of the punishment. Obviously, they were words that were meant for an entirely different audience. And audience, who is Jesus’ day, knew exactly what they meant, when they heard "And they crucified Him!"
I want to share with you some descriptions of the crucifixion that have been compiled by some other scholars and sources: (Note: You might notice that I have a high number of quotes in this sermon, compared to my usual sermons. In this case, I have found that the words of others, and their research are far more effective than my own words”. I have cited those sources here.)
“(1) The Cross. It struck fear into the hearts of the world. It was Rome’s means of controlling people. According to Roman custom, the penalty of crucifixion was always proceeded by scourging; after this…, the condemned person had to carry the cross, or at least the transverse beam of it, to the place of execution, exposed to the jibes and insults of the people. On arrival at the place of execution the cross was uplifted. Soon the sufferer, entirely naked, was bound to it with cords. He was then fastened with four nails to the wood of the cross. Finally, a placard called the “titulus” bearing the name of the condemned man and his sentence, was placed at the top of the cross.” No doubt we now understand why Jesus charge, simply read "King of the Jews". It was a charge, fitting of one who stood in opposition the the Government! “(2) Sometimes the arms were fastened to the upper beam and it was “hoisted” into place by ropes until the feet were off the ground”. (1 – “The Three Crosses”, unknown, www.esermons.com 2 – The Dictionary of the Bible and Religion, by William H. Gentz, p. 234)
“(1) Slaves were crucified outside of Rome in a place called “Sessorium”, beyond the Esquiline Gate; their execution was entrusted to the “carnifex servorum” (the place of the hangman).” Not being in Rome, we note that Jesus execution, also took place outside the city at a place called “Golgotha” or the place of the skull. Though, this also could be called the “place of the hangman” where it “(1) became a forest of crosses, whose bodies of the victims were the pray of vultures and other rapacious birds.”
“(2) Roman law ordered it for slaves, malefactors, religious and political; agitators, murderers, pirates, and others who had no civil rights.” In other words it was a brutal way of eliminating the “riff-raff” and the ridding of those voices who spoke in opposition. It was a way to flush those who were a drain on society.
“It often happened that the condemned man did not die of hunger or thirst, but lingered on the cross for several days. To shorten this punishment therefore, and lessen the terrible sufferings, his legs were sometimes broken. This custom, exceptional among the Romans, was common with Jews. In this way it was possible to take down the corpse on the very evening of the execution. Among the Romans, though, the corpse could not be taken down, unless such removal had been specially authorized in the sentence of death. The corpse might also be buried if the sentence permitted.” A Roman guard stood by until the death sentence was carried out. The death usually came from heart failure or exhaustion.
“(2) The victim was rigidly held in one position unable to deal with heat, cold, muscle cramps, natural body functions, hunger or thirst”. On several modern reality shows, contestants are sometimes asked to stand on a small pedestal, or hold on to a small device, to see who can outlast the other players. On a recent episode of Big Brother contestants were standing on small discs hanging around a circular device. Contestants began to experience muscle cramps, etc. James and Natalie held on for nearly five hours. Natalie finally made a deal! Why? Why would she give up when she had fought to hard for five hours to hang on? She was suffering from extreme exhaustion and dehydration. Her muscles were cramping. She was nausious. Her hands ached. And yet none of this even compares to what the body endures in crucifixion.
It is remarkable, that out of all of this description, the Bible records with simple words: “and they crucified Him”.
“(1) It is interesting that Jesus is responsible for the abolishment of the cross as a means of capital punishment. In the early part of the fourth century Constantine continued to inflict the penalty of the cross on slaves guilty of, in the old Latin, “delatio domini” i.e. “the denouncing of their masters”. But later on abolished this infamous punishment, in memory and in honor of the passion of Christ. From then on, this punishment was very rarely inflicted and finally the practice faded into history. But, oh, how history is remembered”.”